Month: April 2011

Mac and Cheese (made with shell pasta)

Mac and Cheese (made with shell pasta)

This is the recipe my friends have been requesting since before I even started this blog. This is the one I turn to when I wanna overindulge.  This recipe has a way of making you feel like you just chatted with your oldest friend.  Pure comfort.  This is what I pull out of my hat when I’m feeling a celebration or my mood is just too happy for words to express…..  I’d much rather let my mac and cheese tap dance for me, and it does.

Through a friend, I was invited to an intimate dinner for a party of 7 at a strangers house, who happened to be a famous guitar player from one of my favorite bands as a teen.  I had no idea what was being prepared for the gathering, but I didn’t want to show up empty handed.  I know I could have easily picked up a bottle of wine, but I wanted to contribute to the meal.  I settled on mac and cheese…. I thought “how can you go wrong?”  Except I had never attempted to make it before that day.  I thought it over for a couple of minutes and wondered what I could do to make it a  step above scrumptious.  I decided to spruce mine up with some honey baked ham, tomatoes, mushrooms, and gruyere cheese.  Now for the topping….  I didn’t want to use regular bread crumbs, because they sometimes tend to get soggy, and I was really shooting for crunchy.  I flirted with the idea of using crumbled potato chips, but once panko crossed my mind it was a done deal.  The rest of the recipe came together quickly, and when we all sat down for dinner that night, my mac and cheese was given so much praise…  all I could do was smile and blush.


1 1/2 – tablespoons olive oil

1 – pint cherry tomatoes (cut in half)

1 – tablespoon Lawry’s seasoning salt plus 1 teaspoon

1 – tablespoon black pepper plus 1 teaspoon

1 – pound pasta shells or macaroni (I use Barilla)

8 – ounces sliced mushrooms

2 – cups chopped ham (I use honey baked ham)

1/4 – cup chopped green onion (white part only)

1/4 – cup torn pieces of fresh basil

2 1/2 – cups shredded cheddar cheese

2 1/2 – cups shredded gruyere cheese

1 – teaspoon chili flakes

1 – stick butter plus extra to butter your baking dish.

1 – tablespoon minced garlic

1 – quart half and half

1 – tablespoon spicy brown mustard

1 – cup panko bread crumbs


Preheat oven to 370 degrees fahrenheit.

In a large pot boil some water and cook pasta according to package.  Drain and set to the side.

In a frying pan, pour in olive oil over a medium high flame and allow oil to get really hot, then toss in cherry tomatoes with 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper.  Saute on each side for 4 minutes.  Then take off flame and set to the side.

In a big bowl combine sauteed cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, ham, green onion, fresh basil, and cooked drained pasta.  Mix until all ingredients are combined.

Next add in both the cheddar cheese and the gruyere cheese.  Mix to distribute evenly.

Transfer pasta and cheese mixture to a 9 x 13 glass buttered baking dish.  Then sprinkle seasoning over the top with 1 tablespoon Lawry’s, 1 tablespoon black pepper, and chili flakes.

Making the cream is easy.  In a big pan, over a medium flame, add butter and melt down.

Then add garlic to melted butter, along with half and half, and spicy brown mustard. Mix well and make sure to really  mix the mustard in.

Bring butter/cream mixture to a slight boil. Then pull off flame and pour into your cheese and pasta mixture.

Then sprinkle the top with panko bread crumbs. Then gently press down on the top of the bread crumbs.

Place in the oven for 50 minutes, or until golden brown.

How you choose to eat it…. is up to you. If you’re like me you will dig into it the second it is out of the oven. Expect it to fall apart with crunchy bits all around.

But if you have the patience to wait for 30 minutes while it cools down…. then it should look like this.

Photos by Nicole Presley

Where’s my fork?


Shrimp Spring Rolls for LA CAUSA!

Shrimp Spring Rolls for LA CAUSA!

There’s nothing better than lending your time.  I found that out the fun way.  A friend of mine heads the organization “LA CAUSA” and was informing me of all the wonderful things they are doing to redirect the entire community.  They have formed a program called “Green the east side initiative- sustainable communities in East Los Angeles.”  They are making glorious strides in the east LA vicinity.  Having their hands in everything green,  from installing solar paneling into homes around the area to converting a local liquor store into a organic vegetable marketplace.  How inspiring!  I am thrilled over the moon that this positive movement is finally happening in my neck of the woods.  My next question was “how can I help?”  Collectively we thought it would be nice to introduce a small lesson of healthy snacking to the youth, in honor of Earth day.  I decided spring rolls would be my first presentation.  Compact, full of veggies, easy to make and flavorful.  Turns out the students loved the delicious rolls and were also honored by a visit from Senator Ed Hernandez, O.D.

What a superb day!


Ingredients for Shrimp Spring Rolls:

12 – rice wrappers

3 – cups hot water

24 – cooked shrimp (cleaned, peeled, and cut length wise in half)

6 – large romaine lettuce leaves (cut down the middle)

1 – large portobello mushroom (sliced into 12 pieces)

1 – red bell pepper (sliced into 24 pieces)

1 – carrot (julienne into 36 pieces)

1 – cup red cabbage (sliced very thin)

1/2 – cup chopped peanuts

1/2 – cup fresh cilantro leaves


Pour hot water in a large pan, then add 1 rice wrapper. Allow to soak on each side for 5 seconds, or until it is soft and pliable.

Then pull out of water and spread on to work surface. In the middle place 4 shrimp halves.

Then add 1 lettuce leaf, 1 piece of sliced mushroom, 2 strips of bell pepper, 3 strips of carrot, a very small handful of red cabbage, a teaspoon of chopped peanuts, and a few leaves of cilantro.

Fold top and bottom of rice wrapper, then fold the sides totally covering the filling. Roll like a burrito. Eat immediately.


Ingredients for Dipping Sauce:

1 – tablespoon sugar

2 1/2 – tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)

1 – tablespoon Mizkan rice vinegar

1 – teaspoon chili garlic sauce

1 – teaspoon soy sauce


In a small bowl add sugar, lime juice and rice vinegar. Stir until sugar dissolves.

Then add chili garlic sauce and soy sauce.

Give it a good stir. Perfect companion to the shrimp spring roll!


Here are a handful of photos taken during the demonstration.

Making the dipping sauce and introducing the portobello mushroom for the first time to some of the youth, who had no idea what it was.

Hands on and ready to sink their teeth into the shrimp spring rolls!


Healthy and colorful… beautiful if you ask me!

Some of the students along with counselor Gabe, myself, Robert Zardeneta and Senator Hernandez.

*LA CAUSA is currently looking for low income home owners in East Los Angeles who are interested in solar paneling. Please contact Robert Zardeneta for more information on the requirements:

Tasty Turkey Meatloaf

Tasty Turkey Meatloaf

I thought of it as a place of discovery, Negra and Charro’s house.  Both Negra (her real name is Thomasa) and Charro (his real name was Jesus) were close family friends, that treated me as if I were their blood related grand daughter.  It was nice for me to adopt some extra grandparents at the tender age of 6.  They lived at the very top of the hill overlooking all of City Terrace.  The fact that they lived on a hill meant there were plenty of stairs involved.  You’d go downstairs to enter the front of the house, but upstairs to enter the back.  This is the place were I first ate a fig off a tree.  I also discovered if you pour salt on a snail it’ll fizz, thanks to the boys that lived next door.  I saw beautiful rainbows in their backyard sooo many times.  I think the sun just had a way of setting there perfectly.  They always had Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches in their freezer.  I couldn’t remember the word “Neapolitan” when I was a kid and would always call them “Napoleon” ice cream sandwiches instead.  It would make them chuckle, but no one was in a rush to correct me.

Charro had two chihuahuas named “JJ” and “Charlotta.”  Charlotta was a mean white plump gal who would bite peoples ankles and growl if anyone came 5 feet from Charro.  JJ on the other hand was a black little scrawny dog who would wag his tail and look for any signs of affection.  Charro wore RED socks everyday of his life.  Each time I entered their home for a visit, he would shout my arrival by saying in a loud voice that was fit for an announcer “It’s not EVERYDAY, that the most beautiful girl in EAST LA, comes to visit me. CHARRO!”  Even though I had a big frizzy afro, chicken legs and gapped buck teeth.  I looked like a premature baby bird that had fallen out of the nest early.  Needless to say, he really had a way of building my confidence.

Negra always had tassels all over the house, she made them all year for the local graduating class.  This is the same woman who would volunteer her time each election to the voting polls.  Never forgot a date of any sort… birthdays, anniversaries, etc…  She use to save her empty egg shells for me, that way once Easter came to town I would have dozens of confetti eggs.  She made flour tortillas everyday, she would rub the white pillowy dough with a handful of REX lard, then roll them out and put them on a comal to cook.  She made life more wonderful… especially in the food department.  She would put together a killer mac and cheese.  Breaded pork chops with a cabbage slaw.  Her chorizo refried beans were to die for.  It was in that house, high above the city, where I was introduced to meatloaf.  Negra made a basic loaf with very few veggies, and lots of ground beef.  Thinking back, I decided all these years later to make mine with turkey and a ton of healthy vegetables in remembrance of  all the lovely food they shared and the kindness Negra and Charro showered me with.

Meatloaf Ingredients:

2 1/2 – pounds ground turkey

2 – cups zucchini (cubed)

1/2 – cup green onion (sliced)

3/4 – cup red onion (diced)

1 – cup yellow bell pepper (cubed)

1/2 – cup Lindsay black olives (sliced)

3/4 – cup red cabbage (chopped)/ or substitute with grated carrot

2 – cups mushrooms (sliced)

2 – eggs

1 – cup bread crumbs

3/4 – cup dried cranberries

1 1/2 – teaspoons Lawry’s seasoning salt

1 – tablespoon spicy brown mustard

1 – teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 – teaspoons dried basil/ or 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil

3 – teaspoons worcestershire sauce

1 – tablespoon minced garlic

Optional – a pinch of crushed red chili flakes.


Preheat oven to 350 fahrenheit.

In a large mixing bowl, add all ingredients, then mix thoroughly by hand. Making sure all ingredients are combined.

Dividing meat mixture in half,  fill two 5 x 9 loaf pans.

Place in oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Then slice and serve.  To make this meal extra healthy… I like to serve mine on a bed of green salad with sliced pears.  Not to mention it taste good this way.

Eating LIGHT… never tasted so good!

Ginger Lime Tea

Ginger Lime Tea

Ginger lime tea is my GO-TO drink.  I love when there is a fresh pitcher made in my fridge, I know I’m giving my body something good.  In addition to it being refreshingly satisfying, it also serves many health benefits.  Feeling constipated?  Ginger lime tea is the answer.  Nauseous or morning sickness?  Ginger lime tea will fix that.  Got a bad cough or cold?  Ginger lime tea will knock it out of your system.  High cholesterol a problem?  Ginger lime tea will lower it.  Got an upset stomach?  Ginger lime tea will settle it out in no time.  It’s the miracle tea.  It really is.  Eating something greasy and want a drink that will cut through the unctuous bits?  Ginger lime tea is the best.  I can’t shout it out any louder.  I don’t know why it’s not being served in every household?  You want to impress your friends with something different?  Try ginger lime tea, it’s so right.  There’s nothing better for you and it’s sweet tangy spice makes any meal more memorable.  It cleanses your palate and quenches your thirst at the same time.  It could be enjoyed warm or cold over ice.  I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m way into ginger lime tea.  Once you try it, you will be too.

Ginger Lime Tea Ingredients:

1 – large piece of fresh ginger (the size of your hand or slightly bigger)

9 – cups water

1 1/2 – cups fresh lime juice (around 20 limes)

12 – ounces honey


With the side of a spoon, peel/scrape ginger clean.

Once ginger is completely peeled, cut ginger into 1/2 inch pieces.

In a pot over a medium high flame, add chopped ginger and water.

Bring to a rolling boil, and allow to boil for 3 minutes.  Then take off flame and set to the side.

Now to juice the limes.  Cut limes in half and extract all juice from lime into a bowl.  Either by hand or with a citrus press.

In a 12 cup pitcher, add honey and fresh lime juice.

Then take a rubber spatula and stir together well.  Until honey and lime become one.

Last step. Pour ginger water into the pitcher to meet up with the honey lime mixture. Turns out they really like eachother. 🙂  Then give it a good swirl!  It will be potent and strong.

Pour into several cups and share with friends.

Myself, Antonette, Marisela, and Tonantzin

Pour me some more! PLEASE!

🙂 For a ginger limeade spritzer: In a cup filled with ice, pour half ginger lime tea and half sparkling water.  Simply Revitalizing!

Ginger Lime Tea

Chocolate Chip Raisin Almond Cookies

Chocolate Chip Raisin Almond Cookies

I am a cookie CREATURE.

I am the COOKIE fiend.

Cookies are THE ONLY thing that make me WEAK in the knees.

I’ll eat them, till their all GONE…..

and believe you me, it won’t take LONG.



Eat these cookies, their guaranteed to make you sing.


Cookie Ingredients:

1 – cup apple juice (I use Martinelli’s)

3 – cinnamon sticks

1 – cup raisins

2 1/3 – cups flour

1 – teaspoon salt

1 – teaspoon baking soda

1/4 – teaspoon cinnamon

2 – sticks butter (room temperature)

3/4 – sugar

3/4 – packed dark brown sugar

1/2 – teaspoon almond extract

1 – teaspoon vanilla extract

2 – eggs

2 – cups chocolate chips

1 – cup coarsely chopped almonds


Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.

In a saucepan over a medium flame, add apple juice, cinnamon sticks, and raisins.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Then take off flame and drain.  Set raisins to the side.  This step will rehydrate your raisins, and make them juicy plump!

In a medium bowl add flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Set to the side.

In a mixer add butter, sugar, and dark brown sugar. Mix until creamy.

Then add almond extract and vanilla. Mix in. Next add eggs, and mix to combine.

Adding a little at a time, add in flour mixture. Until all is combined.

Then add raisins, chocolate chips, and almonds. Mix in well.

On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat, drop cookie dough by heaping tablespoons 2 inches apart.

Bake for 11 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.  Take out of oven and let cool for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack.


Pine Nut Mushroom Rice

Pine Nut Mushroom Rice

The smell of certain foods take me to other places or times in my life.  I love that.  My wheel of music does the same for me.  Especially songs from my adolescence.  When I need to be inspired I find music to be my biggest muse.  In my world, cooking and listening to music go hand in hand.  Nothing better then putting on a GREAT album, when preparing a big meal.  I get lost singing along to the lyrics, with complete focus on what I’m cooking.  It’s my way of telling the rest of the planet to take a hike while I encircle myself in the joy of escaping into my own private orbit.  Once I’m in the safety of that bubble the possibilities are inexhaustible.  I’m locked in.  If I feel like singing at the top of my lungs it has to be Fiona Apple, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, The Pretenders, or Bjork.  If the mood calls for something that’s more upbeat New Order, Daft Punk (Discovery), Imperial Teen, Lily Allen, Manu Chao, or Michael Jackson (Off The Wall) will get me moving.  When it’s all about the French invasion who better than Brigitte Bardot, Django Reinhardt, and Serge Gainsbourg, those are my faves!  Sometimes I want to become one with the music…. John Lennon & Yoko Ono (Double Fantasy), Hugh Masekela (Grazin in The Grass), Ethiopiques (Volume 4), Buena Vista Social Club, Peter Bjorn and John, Kings of Convenience (Quiet Is The New Loud), and Miles Davis (Kind of Blue, and Bitches Brew) become part of my skin.  When I want to relive the soundtrack of my youth I could depend on  The Smiths, Sonic Youth (Goo), Pixies (Doolittle), Joy Division, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, Duran Duran, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, and the Beatles (Revolver, and Abbey Road).  These artists are the wordsmiths that remind me that it is great to be alive!

I could talk a million miles about all the other bands that were left out that I love, but I have to leave room for the recipe.  Sorry Steely Dan.

Pine Nut Mushroom Rice is a staple in my house, and is always found in my fridge.  I have probably made it dozens of times while each of these artists played in the background.


Rice Ingredients:


4 – tablespoons butter (1/2 a stick)

2 – chopped white mushrooms

2 – chopped crimini mushrooms

1 – tablespoon minced garlic

2 – cups extra long grain rice (I use Mahatma)

1/4 – cup chopped green onion (white part only) (about 6 stalks)

1/2 – cup pine nuts

1/2 – tablespoon roasted sesame seeds

1/2 – teaspoon black pepper

1 – teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt

4 – cups vegetable broth


In a medium pot/sauce pan (with a lid), over a medium high flame, melt butter then add mushrooms, and let saute for 5 minutes. Stirring every minute or so.

Then add in garlic, and rice. Mix well. Continue to saute for another 3 minutes.

Next add in chopped green onions and pine nuts. Continue to saute for 4 minutes. You will notice the rice is starting to brown. Continue to mix so rice doesn’t burn.

Now add sesame seeds, pepper, and Lawry’s. Mix for another minute or until all rice is golden brown.

Add broth and bring to a boil.

Once broth is boiling. Lower flame to low/simmer, and cover pot with a lid.

Cook for 20 minutes. That’s it you’re done!

I like to serve mine with fresh sliced tomatoes, then squeeze lemon over top.

Some people love it with tomatoes, lemon served on the side.

It’s delicious!

Capirotada (Mexican bread pudding)

Capirotada (Mexican bread pudding)

As a kid I looked forward to Easter every year.  To me it meant: Confetti eggs, a new Easter dress, a cute little bunny pin on my sweater, yellow ribbons in my hair, and a fancy basket that my mom would put her heart into.  She knew exactly how to make it special and filled the basket with all my favorite treats.  I would pull the brightly colored cellophane off to find yellow marshmallow bunnies, colorful plastic eggs filled with jellybeans or sweet tarts, a chocolate egg from See’s, chocolate malt balls with a hard white shell, Jordan almonds, a variety of small japanese toys, and a big solid chocolate bunny wrapped in pink foil.  Complete kiddie heaven.

Come Easter day we would have a huge family picnic with all the fixings.  Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits, ham, macaroni and cheese, and some sort of green salad.  Dessert was a whole party on it’s own…. Chocolate banana cream cake, finger jello, ambrosia salad, sugar shortbread cookies, and lemon meringue pie. A sugar high for all. Then the grand Easter egg hunt would take place, my cousins and I would scramble in a frenzy to try and find the golden egg, that was the one with money in it.  It was a day of absolute family closeness, and a spirit of fulfilled happiness.  Once the sun would start to fade the festivities would die down, everyone would say their good-byes, and return home.

I would jump into my pajamas first thing, and settle in for a screening of “The Wizard of Oz”, which showed annually every Easter evening on regular television.  But nothing was complete until my mom would serve me a bowl of warm capirotada topped with whipped cream and candy sprinkles.  It was the finale to my Easter.  The end all of end all’s.  It was made of the things I dreamed about.  Sweet rich softness on the inside, crystallized and crispy on the outside.  The most divine taste you could put in your mouth.  I relished every bite, and till this day capirotada is what I look forward to the most when Easter/Lent rolls around. Hippity Hippity Hoppity Hoppity Easter’s on it way!


Capirotada Ingredients:

7 – pan dulce (conchas) (sliced and toasted, should make around 10 cups)

6 – cups water

3 – piloncillo (cane sugar)

5 – cloves

6 – cinnamon sticks

2 – anise stars

1 – teaspoon vanilla extract

2 – granny smith apples (peeled and sliced)

3/4 – cup raisins

1/2 – cup pecans (coarsely chopped)

1 – cup cheddar cheese (I use Tillamook)

1/2 – cup almonds (coarsely chopped)

1 – cup sweetened shredded coconut

2 – cups monterey jack cheese (I use Tillamook)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.

On a chopping board slice each pan dulce into 12 to 15 pieces.  Reserve all sugar topping crumbs for later use.

Then line two cookies sheets with aluminum foil and place sliced pan dulce evenly across each sheet.

Place in the oven and bake for 8 to 9 minutes, or until golden brown.

Once you remove toasty pan dulce from oven, reduce temperature to 350 degrees fahrenheit.  In a saucepan, over a medium flame, add water, piloncillo, cloves, cinnamon sticks, anise stars, and vanilla extract to make syrup. Stir every so often to help piloncillo melt, once melted, reduce flame to low and let simmer while you build your capirotada.

In a buttered glass baking dish 9 x 13, place 5 cups of toasted pan dulce slices to bottom to form your first layer.

Now peel both granny smith apples and slice into thin wedges. Divide in half.

Next, use half of the granny smith apple slices and raisin to layer on top of toasted pan dulce.

Here comes the next layer. Add pecans and cheddar cheese.

Again add another layer of pan dulce with the remaining 5 cups, and almonds.

Now for the fun part. Take piloncillo syrup and pour over the top of toasted pan dulce layers to soak all the way through. The pan dulce should be very soggy and drenched.

Take other half of granny smith apples and coconut, and layer on top of soggy pan dulce.

Lastly add monterey jack cheese to layered apple/coconut. Then take pan dulce sugar topping crumbs and sprinkle over the top.  Place in oven for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, pull capirotada out of oven and it should be golden and crunchy. Then loosely cover with aluminum foil and put back in the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes. This step will help to keep the top of your capirotada from burning, but allow more of the moisture to evaporate from bread pudding.

Pull it out of the oven, remove aluminum foil, and allow it to sit for a half hour.

🙂 Capirotada tip:  I like to serve mine warm with candy sprinkles on top.  If you’re feeling decadent add whipped cream to that equation.

“Te Sacastes Un Diez!”